When I was going to college back in the Dark Ages, “Marketing” was one of my core study areas as a Business Management major. Back then, and I have no idea what they’re teaching now, Marketing consisted of five related but distinct business activities. They were:
• Market Research
• Product Management
• Brand Management
Within these legitimate business functions, a few giants have made their mark on the American automobile industry and, in turn, American culture.
The origins of American “Muscle Cars” are cloudy, because so many automotive things were happening in the 1940s and early 1950s, but evidence of something quite new can be found.
Some believe the 1949 Oldsmobile 88 started it all with a “Rocket V-8” engine installed in the base model Oldsmobile chassis it shared with Chevrolet. In the days when the best Ford could do was the valve-in-head “Flathead” V-8 design from 1932, that big overhead-valve Oldsmobile engine in the light Olds/Chevy body was like something from outer space.
Others feel Chrysler’s Virgil Exner got it all started in 1955 with the “Letter series” 300 models. Chrysler’s stodgy post-war image was now a thing of the past. Exner’s designs would be industry leaders for the next decade. About this time, some Chrysler cars had the first factory engines to produce 1 horsepower per cubic inch of engine displacement. The powerful and beautifully designed (and engineered) Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge and Plymouth products made quite an impression at the time. Many consider the ’55 to ’65 Chrysler products classics today.
Having survived previous ownership of a 340 hp 1962 Corvette Roadster, Zora Arkus-Duntov also comes to mind. Duntov was a Product Engineer who made his mark by coming up with the concept of the Chevrolet Corvette. He did his work under the “Product Management” segment of Marketing. He believed there were potential buyers who preferred a high performance American sports car, rather than one of those strange foreign types with funny names (Porsche 912?) that required a different set of socket wrenches, and gave the American car enthusiast market exactly what it wanted.
Another Marketing type who made his mark in the “Muscle Car” era was John DeLorean. Most in our younger generation probably associates him with the car, a Hollywood studio-modified DeLorean sports car, in the “Back to The Future” movie series. The DeLorean was, in its own way, revolutionary in design, but it was not what DeLorean had in mind with his original concept for a high-performance car.
John DeLorean made his major mark on the automotive world, and pop culture, when he was a Product Manager in the Pontiac Division of General Motors back in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
DeLorean started with an otherwise plain and unassuming (remember the 1949 Oldsmobile?) Pontiac Tempest two-door sedan, shoe-horned a high performance 389 cubic inch V-8 under the hood, mated the engine to a close-ratio 4-speed manual transmission, beefed up the chassis and suspension and the result was the legendary Pontiac GTO.
Tens of thousands of GTOs were sold all over the world. While John DeLorean didn’t invent the “Muscle Car”, he came very close to perfecting the concept. Go shopping for a 1964 GTO today and you’ll see what I mean.
Also in the early ‘60s at Ford, the Ford Division’s young General Manager, a former Ford Product Manager, had his own ideas. Under his visionary leadership, Ford quickly (about 18 months) rolled out a new model that was light, “sporty”, fun to drive and economical (about 80% of the parts were from Ford’s Falcon and Fairlane) to build. Enter Lee Iacocca’s Ford Mustang in April of 1964 and, like Duntov’s Corvette, you can still buy a new one today.
All this happened many years ago. But the work of innovative automotive Product Engineering and Marketing types like Duntov, Exner, DeLorean and Iacocca has left their mark on America’s ongoing love affair with high performance automobiles.
If you are fortunate enough to own one of their creations, I suggest you enjoy it on a regular basis, take very good care of it and hold on to it.